Symptoms of acid reflux
Heartburn is the most common symptom of acid reflux, acid indigestion, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It is often mild and occasional (episodic), but for some it may be frequent (occurs 2 or more days a week), moderate to severe and long-lasting. However, heartburn may be a symptom of more serious disorders like gastroesophageal reflux disease, peptic ulcers, esophagitis or hernia. But how do you know the difference between common heartburn and symptoms of GERD?
Common heartburn symptoms
Heartburn is not a result of bad lifestyle, but has a physical cause. The major cause is the too frequent relaxation of a muscular valve in the lower esophagus known as the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES. A relaxed LES allows stomach acid to move upwards into the esophagus causing symptoms. Other factors potentially making heartburn worse include a weak esophagus muscle, lack of saliva, slow emptying of the stomach, or large hiatal hernias.
Heartburn usually occurs after eating a big meal or while lying down. The burning sensation or feeling in your chest or throat can last for a few minutes to a few hours. Mild and occasional heartburn episodes or even moderate to sever episodes are normal if they occur less than a few times a week. Heartburn is generally worse after meals, while laying down at night, or during exercise associated with bending over. If you experience heartburn now and then, it's probably not serious. Fleeting and mild problems associated with heartburn are normal symptoms of indigestion and are not cause for concern.
Frequent or chronic heartburn symptoms
If you experience more than occasional heartburn you may be developing complications that require diagnosis. Severe or frequent discomfort caused by heartburn is not normal and may be a symptom of digestive disorders such as acid reflux disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), an inflamed stomach lining (gastritis), hiatal hernia or a peptic ulcer. Frequent heartburn can also lead to esophagitis (an inflamed lining of the esophagus) which may cause bleeding or trouble swallowing.
When to seek help
Talk to your doctor if you experience:
More serious symptoms that require diagnostic attention include:
If you are experiencing other symptoms such as crushing chest pain, you may be experiencing a heart attack and need to get help immediately.
Most heartburn is only occasional. But if your heartburn is severe or chronic, it may suggest more serious problems with the digestive system. To learn more about how to diagnose heartburn or more serious problems associated with heartburn, continue reading here.